Does Listening to Weezy Make You Dumb?



There’s a study by a PhD student at CalTech making the rounds that attempts to link the intelligence of college students with their musical tastes. (The above is condensed; the full chart is here.) For the purposes of this study, musical taste was compiled by compiling the most popular artists among students at a particular school, then finding that schools average S.A.T. scores. Beethoven was the most popular among the highest-scoring students; Lil Wayne was the most popular mong the lowest.

Ben Greenman rightly calls out the shoddy methodology but can’t resist a good-natured barb. 

Interestingly enough, Billy Joel has the fifteenth-smartest preference population (average S.A.T. score of 1147), while jazz (that’s right — the entire genre) has the one-hundred-and-twenty-seventh (average S.A.T. score of 946). Led Zeppelin beats Weezer, and Weezer beats Ben Harper. The top three: Beethoven, Sufjan Stevens, and Counting Crows (hey, no one ever said that intelligence was the same thing as good taste). The bottom three: Beyonce, T.I., and Lil Wayne (hey, no one ever said intelligence was the same as popular success). Read the list. Gnash your teeth. E-mail people about how manifestly foolish the study is. Enjoy. Let us know what you think — T.I. fans, remember to use spell-check.

He also points out its classism, which was one of the first things I noticed, too. Using S.A.T. scores to determine “intelligence” is a stretch (though it’s probably not too surprising that a kid at a selective school like CalTech would be invested in that idea). There is, however, a very strong correlation between S.A.T. scores and family income, for reasons that are pretty obvious. (Just ask my co-blogger, quadmoniker, who moonlights as a S.A.T. tutor in the wealthiest county in the country in terms of median income; the kids go to the very best public schools, and come from families where their parents can very easily fork over $1400+ to pay for test prep courses.)

Inadvertently, this study probably tells us more about  social location than it does about what smart/dumb kids are banging in their iPods.


16 thoughts on “Does Listening to Weezy Make You Dumb?

  1. Grump March 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Soca is the lowest of the low. So how does that fare for the WI indian immmigrants that do so well and are accepted into Ivy league schools at a higher rate than African-Americans?

    • G.D. March 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm Reply

      Based on the methodology of this study, those kids probably don’t make up a significant enough proportion of the kids at those schools (on Facebook) to have their tastes weigh heavily into the top ten. This study would only capture the most mainstream tastes on a campus (on Facebook).

    • Winslowalrob March 16, 2009 at 9:51 pm Reply

      That is exactly what I was thinking. We be reppin de islands mon wid straight As!

  2. lemu March 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm Reply

    this is going to make a lot of folks mad.

  3. shani-o March 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm Reply

    I remember reading this study about a year ago. There’s also a book section ( ), that I found even more telling. For example, at Howard one of the most popular books is The Coldest Winter Ever. Because of the middling SAT scores of HU students (and students at other HBCUs), The Coldest Winter Ever, as well as several other ‘African American’ books were listed as books that make you dumb. Although I’m sure that Zane kills brain cells, the rest of the book chart pretty much killed the “study” for me.

    So yeah, it’s quite clearly classist.

    Also, it doesn’t account for the serious posing people do on their fb pages.

    • G.D. March 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm Reply

      That’s a great point. If someone’s trying to present an image that will gain you the most credibility in your social universe, how would big-upping Beethoven or Ben Folds benefit the kid at Less Selective University X? Conversely, why would someone at Super Selective Institution A pick Beyonce?

      • shani-o March 16, 2009 at 4:08 pm Reply

        Ezackly. I remember reading a Matt Yglesias post where he talked about how much time he spent at Harvard bluffing about books he claimed he read. In fact, I wonder if there’s more pressure at Super Selective Institution A to appear interested in things that make you look smarter, than there is at Less Selective University X.

        • G.D. March 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm Reply

          Of course there is. Or I think, they all face pressure to “appear smart,” but ideas about what it means to “appearing smart” is defined differently depending on your class.

          • Winslowalrob March 16, 2009 at 9:57 pm Reply

            However, ask anyone that has to deal with kids at a ‘selective school’ and they will swear up and down around 60% of the kids do not deserve to be there. Hell, 60% of college kids should not be in college, but thats the subject of another post. While there is pressure to be smart and fake out kids with your maddd reading skills, in terms of music choice I would argue that the big one that attracts all posers is (annoyingly) the Beatles, and after that comes a string of obscure ass musicians that you will never hear about.

            • Ron March 18, 2009 at 2:02 pm Reply

              Well that and the other half of the time at said schools, is spent lamenting the Ivies you didn’t get into, even if the school you’re at is in the Top 20

  4. ladyfresshh March 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm Reply

    *looks for philip glass and scifi books… assumes she’s off the charts*
    (in a good way folks don’t bust my bubble)

  5. thinking of a name March 16, 2009 at 10:07 pm Reply

    You know, I had seen broad brush strokes of this study on several websites, but never the details behind it. I thought it was an interesting study, but now that I see what it is based off of I give it no credit.

    The definition of intelligence is – capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc. (and yes, I did just look it up on the internet). How does that get defined by the SAT? Basically, if you have seen the vocabulary and math before you will do better on it, if you have not see the vocabulary or math before it you will do worse. If timed test is your thing then you will do better, if not you will do worse. How does a test that measures what you already know measure reasoning and understanding?

    Someone should do a study of all the people who had the highest SAT scores ten years later and see where they stand in life. I would be interested in this study.

    I, by the way, have always heard that people with higher intelligence have a wider variety of different musical genres that they enjoyed. I guess that would be true of a brilliant engineer I knew that loved to bump NWA as well as Mozart.

    • daisymae81 March 17, 2009 at 11:36 am Reply

      thinking of – i agree with your comment that people with higher intelligence listen to a wider variety of music… it’s something that i’ve heard as well, and would be more inclined to believe.

      personally, i’m a numbers/statistics geek – and the very design of this study makes it absolutely inadmissible. it’s amazing that a student at CalTech couldn’t figure out it’s many flaws when my intro to stats students at “lowly state school” could design a better study.

  6. thinking of a name March 17, 2009 at 12:17 pm Reply

    daisymae81: (for some reason I cannot post directly below your reply)

    There is a misconception that intelligence can be measured by a grade on a paper or admittance to a particular school. In my opinion, intelligence is an abstract concept that needs to be measured using several different instruments. I believe that people are confusing high academic achievement with intelligence. For example, Einstein did not have high academic achievement. He did not speak until either 2 or 4, I forget how old, and failed elementary math. If you would have asked his teachers he would not have been considered intelligent. However, now not only is he the poster child for intelligence, but I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say that he was not intelligent.

    Intelligence is more constant, it does not change like a grade point. It is a characteristic of a person. Academic achievement is only as good as your last test, paper, exam and so one. They are not one in the same.

    Finally, I got this quote from an article on giftedness – which also can be equated to intelligence – where academic achievement is mistaken for giftedness, two different things.

    “The concept of giftedness, as it has been described in Western culture for over a century, is problematic. Perennially equated with “elitism,” the concept has come under vigorous attack in the United States during the school reform movement of the 90s. Zealots have claimed that the notion is culturally biased (even racist), related to socio-economic opportunity, and a social construction to maintain hierarchical power relations (George, 1992; Margolin, 1993, 1994; Sapon-Shevin, 1994). It is difficult to argue with these opponents when giftedness is defined as high achievement in school or the potential for recognized accomplishment in adult life. The fact is that achievement
    is very much a function of opportunity (Hollingworth, 1926), and greater opportunities for success are available to those who have greater financial resources”

    • daisymae81 March 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm Reply

      no, i agree that measuring intelligence via standardized tests is absolutely inappropriate. intelligence is a personal trait, and is independent of schooling – i don’t even know that it can be adequately measured in an unbiased fashion. you’ll get no argument from me on that.

      i can’t articulate my point very well (and didn’t, in re-reading my post) – but what i’m trying to convey is that there’s a bit of irony in the fact that a student who supposedly did well on their SATs, and is therefore considered “intelligent” (assuming high SAT = intelligence, which we know is not always true), cannot design a simple study based on concepts that are taught at a basic level to a wide variety of students. the whole premise of his correlation is faulty.

  7. thinking of a name March 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm Reply

    I was just agreeing with you argumentatively :). I guess you call that preaching to the choir.

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